Is Travolta gay? Orientation, identity, and disclosure.
Juliet Jeske shares an interesting post on HuffPo Gay Voices that is a good and meaningful read. Dig into the comments too, because there is some great stuff there as well. Unfortunately, Jeske has her own agenda which she dismisses while asking if we should care if John Travolta is gay. Her agenda is as follows:
I have a particular disdain for the “closet” and for anyone perpetuating secrets and lies about their sexual orientation.
The position is completely understandable, given her own history, yet it takes away from the real value of the post in my opinion because she sets up a double standard. Distain can be like that.
Jeske’s hyper focus on orientation totally misses the connections and disconnections between orientation, identity, and disclosure. I think too, she forgets that sexuality is a fliuid continuum that ranges from exclusively homosexual to exclusively heterosexual. Truly, the closet (a big part of her topic) has nothing at all to do with orientation at all, yet she treats it as if it does.
The real point I want to make however, is all about her statement here: (emphasis added is mine)
Ultimately, someone’s sexual orientation is his or her own business. Travolta should be free to love and have sex with whomever he wants and not need to broadcast it to the world. However, if he is hiding his true nature and living in the closet, he is setting a horrible example for young gay men and women. Moreover, if he is using a straight spouse as cover, he is sending the message that to survive, you must hide and take others down with you.
I’d press her: either this is a true statement or it isn’t, because she can’t have it both ways. It is a person’s own business or it isn’t. Period. And if it is, everyone has the right to self-disclosure on their own terms. Even (now) beloved gay role models, like Neil Patrick Harris only came out when he was about to be outed.
More central to this discussion than orientation, is identity, a topic she ignores entirely. A person may have a sexual attracted to men, women or both. That’s all about orientation. But how does that person identify? Do they self- identify as gay, straight, bi, or asexual? I think at times the closet Jeske speaks about is rather an identity issue. A person’s self identity isn’t aligned or understood.
Or take someone like Jim Parsons, who has been in a disclosed same-sex relationship for many years, yet the actor has never really come out as gay. Her, his identity and orientation are aligned, and he has chosen to refrain from public disclosure.
I believe the real message of Jeske’s post is rather all about the value of disclosure, especially to those who love you and count upon you. She knows first hand the sting and pain of lies and hiding. But would she accuse Parsons of causing that type of pain? I don’t think so.
While commentors have agreed with her (and they will- it is always easy to cast judgement on others) I utterly disagree with her comment here:
However, if he is hiding his true nature and living in the closet, he is setting a horrible example for young gay men and women.
I’d ask, are we ure he knows his own “true nature”? Isn’t it possible that it is a secret from himself too, or one he at the least tries to keep from himself?
I’d also push back that any of us are to be judged wholly by how others might see us. It is Travolta’s purpose to be Travolta, not be an example for others per se. Sure every one of us is an example to there to a degree, but celebrities have that responsibility no more or less than anyone else.
I once had an older friend, now many years dead. I met him at a time when he was married, and just beginning to grasp his own sexuality. Throughout his life he had had some experiences with men, usually lubricated with plenty of alcohol, and also rationalized away as being all about the booze. His wife had experienced hurt confusion, a lack of romance and intimacy too. I will never forget the day he said to me, “it has taken me my entire adult life to try and come to know who I am.” And, I had known him enough to realize what a challenge it had been for him.
I hope Jeske finds ways to better articulate her own issues surrounding honesty, disclosure, faithfulness and relationship, while also encouraging others to not hide their orientation and identity from others. I think a point she wants to make, but doesn’t is that when we are open with ourselves and others, we have an opportunity to be more genuine and have more intense and meaningful interactions, encounters and relationships.
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